Dr. Darden Purcell is a jazz vocalist and the Director of Jazz Studies at George Mason University.  Joe McMurray and Aaron Sefchick have a wonderful time talking with Darden about her musical journey, her duties as a “Director of Jazz Studies,” how to transition to singing jazz music, and specifics on vocal technique and practice.
In part 1 of 1, Darden tells the guys about how she started singing jazz music, her experiences singing in the U.S. Air Force Band, her time working and performing in Nashville, and her experience in graduate school at the University of Illinois.  They discuss the music scenes in New Orleans, New York, and Chicago.
Darden explains her duties as the Director of Jazz Studies at George Mason.  They discuss trends in the incoming pools of students and how they are related to trends in society.  They also talk about Darden’s students and some of her teaching approaches.
Darden has released two albums, and she gives insight into her studio experiences, her influences while producing these albums, and the unintentional consequences of releasing an album with complicated arrangements (it’s hard to gig!).
 
Find out more about Darden at http://www.dardenpurcell.com/.  Find out more about George Mason’s music programs at https://music.gmu.edu/.
Welcome to Fret Buzz The Podcast. My name is Joe McMurray and I am Aaron Sefchick.
And today our guest is Dr. Darden Purcell. She’s a jazz vocalist and she’s
the Director of Jazz Studies at George Mason University. And I’ve actually taken,
I think it was History of Jazz with her and I have studied voice a little bit
with her. It’s wonderful to have you on Darden. Thank you so much. I’m really
happy to be here. Thanks for having me. If you look back at our
episode history, we actually interviewed her husband, Dr. Shawn Purcell, 20
episodes ago or so and her husband was my teacher. My private guitar lesson
teacher at George Mason. So, it’s awesome to get his better half on. So you
were performing last night? I was. I was in Baltimore. So yeah, I had a
gig in Baltimore and that’s kind of a long haul from Virginia as I’m sure
do you remember. So what were you you playing? Well, I was actually…
I’ve kind of started a new venture. I have a friend who’s a wonderful singer
and piano player up there and he’s been trying to get me these new gigs where I’m
playing piano and singing and it’s really the first time in my life that
I’ve ever done that. I’ve accompanied students but I do not consider myself a
piano player so last night I had a three hour piano
singing gig up in Baltimore so wow yeah yeah Wow is right cool
I don’t know I’m still getting used to it in fact I was telling him like this
is totally putting me out of my comfort zone but I want to get better at piano
and there’s really no better way to do it so it’s so funny to hear you say that
I you know I’ve seen you play the piano and you it seemed wonderful when I saw
you well thank you but it’s not yes we’re surrounded like if you sound good
with me playing for you with a real instrumentalists you’re gonna sound
great so I guess when you’re surrounded by the
professors of jazz piano it at Mason and wherever else I guess that can it can
make you feel a little less oh yeah when I hear wait each play I’m kind of like
but that’s okay so I felt like that when I first got to George Mason I felt like
I was the worst guitar player on the planet Italy or in the whole school
there’s the you know there’s that period where you think you’re getting pretty
good at your instrument and then you go and you get put in your place and then
you slowly you know you actually do get better right and um there you know after
you leave the competitiveness goes out at least for me I don’t have that
competitiveness anymore right I think so you’re not surrounded by your classmates
and you’re not sitting in front of panels of professors and right that are
judging you and and your eating and all that yeah yeah well it’s kind of you
know school is wonderful obviously I like school I’m a part of it but and
it’s good to have that competition and to know what’s around you and if nothing
else to me I enjoyed it to get ideas oh I love wow this person’s working on this
and oh that really interested me I’d like to work on that as well too but
then at times too it can definitely make you feel like wow I have a lot I have a
lot of need to learn what is that saying the more you learn the bigger the book
piece so it’s and I feel like this journey and music to its lifelong
learning I mean Here I am in my mid-40s doing my first piano and singing gigs
and feeling not ready to do it at all but that’s okay that’s what we do it
does get easier I think this solo playing gets easier and easier I hope I
hope there’s some prayers are you doing old all jazz yes I’m just doing all my
own material you know and every every time I do this he started me at two
hours because I said I can probably do about two hours
if nothing else just because I’m not a piano player so it’s just my hands after
a while and then the second gig he said I can’t make it over there you’re gonna
have to do all four hours oh yeah so I went from two hours to four hours and we
were just coming off our camp at Mason so I’d been up at like 6 a.m. in the
morning and did the camp all day long and then got my car at 3:00 drove to
Baltimore got to Baltimore at 6:00 did the gig from 7:00 to 11:00 then drove
home and the next day my hands were so swollen
Shawn was like you need to take something your friend run them under
cold water just because I had just never done that much playing at once so what
kind of venue were you playing it is an Italian restaurant in Little Italy
Baltimore it’s called des memo’s and it’s this wonderful kind of throwback
vintage restaurant so you you go into the the bar area and it’s carpeted and
they have these like almost carpeted barstools that swivel and pictures of
all these kind of famous people on the wall so it’s it’s it’s I don’t want to
say it’s a piano lounge because it’s not like a dueling pianos thing but it’s
definitely like a throwback lounge so that’s cool no I fit very well I’m sure
yeah are you playing some of your original music on these types of games
no you know I have one original song in my repertoire that is all I have okay I
sit on the album down of the two albums not nope not at all it was actually an
assignment that I did for class in grad school and it was it was part of a Great
American Songbook class so we were learning about all the composer’s and
then at the end of it the assignment was to create our own song so I wrote my own
song I don’t know if it’s good or not you know I’ve actually only performed it
like once or twice but um I don’t know that’s just not something I’ve gotten
into I think it’s because there’s so much other repertoire that I feel like I
need to learn that I just I haven’t I haven’t gotten there yet but the thing I
do like doing that I’d like to do a lot more of is writing lyrics so I
enjoy writing lyrics to other people’s melodies so like taking old
instrumental jazz tunes and putting lyrics where there were no lyrics right
or even new ones so I think it was two years ago my vocal ensemble was chosen
to perform at the Jazz Education Network and this was conference down in Dallas
and it’s a really cool conference it’s once a year and the coolest part about
it is probably the hang you get to see a lot of people that you haven’t seen
before and so that’s cool but so we were down there and you know my group would
normally only do about a 20-minute set every semester but this conference
needed 50 minutes of music so it basically doubled our repertoire
for the semester and so one of the tunes that I took was a Wayne Shorter tune
called tell-it-like-it-is which was an instrumental piece and I wrote lyrics to
it and then we turned it into an arrangement for the vocal group lead
pills are did that so that was that was fun because I guess I feel like it’s
only half the work right now somebody else is taking care of the melody so do
you imagine a story in your head based on the the kind of mood or vibe of the
song sometimes yeah so the teller like it is I’d actually heard one of our
combos do it so one of the combos performed it you know with Wade Beach
and I was just listening to the melody I’m thinking this seems singable to me
like it seems kind of singable and that’s really really important because
some instrumental pieces as we know are not overly singable it’s not saying we
wouldn’t do it but I was just thinking of the other pieces that I wanted to do
and how this would fit in and I just thought this is cool I think I can do
something with this and I liked also the title of it tell it like it is because
then the story kind of started coming to mind of oh okay okay I can kind of
visualize this so so I think it I think it turned out okay yeah that’s awesome
yeah that that was in Dallas you said yeah we went there I think it was in
2018 January 2018 in Dallas so that’s good yeah are you see what do you do now
that school’s out what are you doing do you have any do you have lessons through
the summer and with your private student yeah well it’s funny I’m on a nine month
contract which means I’m technically not supposed to be working at Mason from
June until August but I think we all know that that’s impossible
if I didn’t check my email for three months that would be kind of the end of
it so I’m still for all intents and purposes I’m still working at Mason I
still check my email every day and I’m still trying to get things together for
the school year I do teach a few private lessons in the
summer but not that many because I really need a break you know so I’ll do
a few here there but I like to keep it flexible and then this summer I’m
actually coming up on tenure so I was busy putting together my tenure packages
so this has been a real working summer and then of course Sean’s releasing his
CD so we’ve been putting together a ton of you know marketing materials and it’s
it’s been a working summer for sure but I do I do like to take on students in
the summer that’s kind of my only time during the school year it’s almost
impossible to take on private students so otherwise I’d just be working all day
long every day so that’s when I used to come in in the summer to to meet with
you yeah long ago yeah yeah it was very helpful I
you were adamant that I needed to not push so hard am i singing okay it took a
few years to sing him but I think I’m good I’ve started that some of that has
has sunk in okay well I hear you at some point
see to your progress that would be wonderful yeah not over the podcast
that’s a lot of pressure yeah yes so um I can’t I want to go back to the
beginning and I’d love to get your story of how you got to where you are today I
mean what when did you first did you start out singing or did you start out
playing the piano and how did this all blossom that’s a good that’s a good
question I’m still figuring that out how did this all happen
um I why I always sang so as a child I always started singing
or started out singing really young I sang in church choirs that’s really
where I started out with church choir and then throughout high school I sang
in choirs as well too but I never I didn’t come from a musical family my
family loves music but nobody played an instrument and we were all so my dad was
in the military and we lived in England for about eight years so we were moving
around quite a bit so I didn’t take any piano at all when I was younger I play
actually I played a little bit of guitar this is a funny story so my parents
still had are my sister and my guitars that we played in folk choir like the
church choir and when I first started dating Sean I brought him down there to
see the guitar and it was I mean the strings were like so tight because I’ve
been sitting in my parents basement for like I don’t know 10 years 15 years or
something and he was laughing at the shape of this guitar I mean it was awful
I’m like well it didn’t really matter because we were eight or ten when we
were playing it so you know it’s not in good shape so and I don’t remember
anything from that so so anyway so I was playing you know I was singing in high
school I never thought of music as a career at all I actually wanted to go
into business so I started out at Virginia Tech in the School of Business
and let’s just say that wasn’t going so well for me happens you know with a lot
of students that’s why I’m always so open to transferring and changing
degrees just because I I personally think it’s impossible for someone at 16
to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life I think that it’s
kind of a ridiculous thing that we put on our society if you’re 15 years old
now what do you want to do for the next 50 years you know I don’t know you know
it is crazy I mean that that early 20s is such a period of development and
growth and figuring out who you are I mean I went I’ve completely changed my
course I know I remember yeah well you know so we have the society constructs
of you know well you don’t want to do this you want to do that then we have
obviously just friends and family I mean they play a huge impact in our life as
to the path maybe they’ve taken or what they the path they think you want to
take and then they’re kind of comes down to what actually
be happy you know so anyway business was not going well so I joined choir and the
choir director said you should audition for the School of Music and I I just
kind of looked at him like what are you talking about the School of Music what
is that so I auditioned for it I kind of fell into the jazz department
really they were asking what I was interested in doing and I said well I
want to sing in restaurants and bars and clubs and I basically knew I didn’t want
to sing opera I didn’t want to take the classical route because I’ve never done
that before so I thought this is what I want and they said well why don’t you go
and talk to they actually said why don’t you go downstairs and talk to the jazz
people so because the Jazz faculty were in the bottom floor of the music school
which is often typical it’s okay them so I did I went and spoke to them my
teachers lycée Alliance and Jim McNeil and four years later I was one of the
first graduates from a jazz with a jazz degree and so that’s how I really kind
of fell into it which is again why I always try to be so flexible with my own
students or with anyone coming in because I myself did not have that
perfect path of you know I’m gonna do this forever you know no job you didn’t
listen to jazz growing up very little of it I think at the time Natalie Cole had
just come out with her big hits with her dad it was kind of like remember the
duets and the Holograms so this was in the I guess early 90s sort of late late
80s early 90s I had never really listened to much jazz before that my dad
my dad was a huge jazz fan and he had gone to see Charlie Bird he was from DC
so he would go to a clubs in DC so you know I think I’d heard it but it was not
um no I was not listening to it adamantly but as soon as I got into it I
loved it and this is also something that I remember very well from undergrad as
you know there was no internet I think when I started college they gave us an
email address and half of us were looking at this address like what do we
do with this I mean we were still standing in line with our index cards to
register for our classes you know so there was no there was no YouTube
there was no iTunes there was no really way to check out music other than
physically going to the record stores and you know rummaging through the bins
and finding music and I remember my teacher she had CDs in her office and
she would loan us a CD we had to sign out the CD she’d loan it to us for a
week I’d have to go back listen to that whole CD and I’d listened to it again
and again and again for a week cuz I knew I only had it for a week then I had
to bring it back to her office give it back to her and then she give me another
CD that’s awesome yeah I love that story and that’s I mean that’s why now
sometimes I get a little frustrated when people say I couldn’t find it like what
are you talking about google it you can find in like 30 seconds
yeah but yeah and so then of course we go to what we’d love to go to up in New
York City or try to find the big record Mart you know like Tower Records in New
York City I would spend forever in there because it was the only time we got to
see this you know so so anyway so that was college and then really right after
college I auditioned for the air force band in DC and I was fortunate enough to
win that audition but interestingly enough it wasn’t for jazz it was to be
in a rock band so I sang yeah I sang pop music and country music
I sang disco inferno wow yeah you’re laughing yes it was that’s great but it
was good you know it was a job it was a full-time job with benefits it was doing
something that I loved I’d sort of fell into that again through my teacher was
an Air Force vocalist and so she said you should look into this again there’s
no internet so all the advertising is done through magazines and so it really
is hit or miss you know so I was very fortunate and that’s where I met Sean so
and that’s where I really kind of turn I mean I was by the end of college I was
really interested in jazz but then when I got the rocket you know that started
taking more of my time and so that’s when Sean and I started really well he
was already kicking butt I started gigging more and trying to get more into
the actual genre so was he performing in the air force band then yeah he was in
the air mannan oh yeah his story was twisting and confusing at
times because he was in different military bands yeah no he is he’s funny
because he’s not been in two different branches of the military and three
different big bands so yeah the musicians tend to kind of jump
around from band to band based on instrument if they’re allowed to you
know so so then I did up for four years and Sean and I basically decided we
wanted to get out I decided you know I well I love this and it was a wonderful
opportunity there were other things I wanted to do and life was beginning to
take us in another direction and so we moved to Nashville for four years and we
liked Nashville a lot we met a lot of really wonderful people but after four
years there I again was feeling nomadic and thought let’s go to grad school so I
I was so in touch with my former teacher Lisa Ann and she said Illinois has a
great grad school you should move there and so we did we sold our house we had
just built a house in Nashville so we sold their house and moved to the middle
of Illinois and at University it’s a great university but it’s in the middle
of a cornfield so when we were kind of driving there
from Nashville we’re thinking he went from DC to Nashville to urbana-champaign
with a population of 150,000 people what it was incredible
I mean it was an amazing Midwest town they loved music
the followers of supporters were unbelievable I mean it was such a
wonderful experience and then after four years it was I think 2011 yeah we moved
back to DC and I got my job at Mason and spring of 2012 so that’s my life in a
nutshell what how did you what did you do while you were in Nashville did you
perform full-time no I didn’t at that time you know we needed to make a living
so I took on a full-time job during the day and I’m thinking my logic was I’ll
work during the day and then I’ll perform at night and that quickly taught
me I was so exhausted after working all day long
that the last thing I wanted to do was perform at night you know and so there
wasn’t a lot of performing in fact I probably went for a year without singing
at all and that really did not work out well for me I really realized at this
point that I need to do something different and so I ended up quitting
that one job and I actually worked on music row I worked for seasick which is
kind of one of the companies that’s alongside ASCAP and BMI and I I enjoy
that job I enjoy my other job as well too but it was not affiliated with music
at all but it gave us a salary and it gave us health benefits Shawn at the
time I think was he was in school he was working for heritage amplifiers he was
building amps we were both teaching I mean we were doing every single thing we
could to kind of piece together this life you know so I really enjoyed
working for SESAC I was in the licensing department so I was kind of one of the
people that was working with mechanical licenses and licenses for venues that
have music and then after that that’s when we decided to go to grad school
Nashville is a wonderful musical town or a music town it was really great it
didn’t have as much jazz as we would have wanted it to which when we tell
people that they kind of laugh at us like well of course it’s kind of country
music USA but but we just are we’re so used to living in this area which has
every bit of music but in Nashville I found that the the scene was country
music and Christian kind of gospel a little bit of jazz but not not as much
as you would need to really make a career out of so one of your favorite
towns is New Orleans right talk about it yeah I like New Orleans it’s a good time
I’ve only been there like once or twice so but it’s cool we’re going back down
in January the gen conference will be there so we’ll be back there again okay
I feel like I I remember you maybe it was in class just when you were telling
us about the birth of jazz in New Orleans
sure and you were very enthusiastic about it yeah I wore my or my Jazz Fest
here today all right yeah get it down there this
year oh cool okay I got to see so much good music is it was wonderful you had
to see the Marsalis family play and that’s awesome yeah it’s it is just an
amazing time to be able to go and just see just club after club yeah
jazz yeah it’s very upbeat it’s really fun music yeah like I’m not
I appreciate good ballads and that sort of thing but the New Orleans jazz is
there’s a funk a funkiness to it and just very upbeat it’s fun and it’s good
for people who want to go out and they’re out drinking or partying and
they want to listen to jazz right yeah it’s very different from like in New
York jazz that I’ve seen yeah it’s interesting that the cities take on kind
of the different personalities I feel like a players and Nora
New Orleans is such a party town you know so people are obviously it’s a
destination people want to go and I think the music and that personality the
players kind of takes that on Chicago is different from New York for sure that
personality is different and then of course the West Coast is different as
well so it’s always kind of interesting and fun to see yeah yeah well so you’ve
been what was your other than just the fact that while you were in the military
you were singing a different style of music than you were primarily interested
in what were some of the experiences that you value that you thought were
were interesting did you get to perform in the Middle East or anywhere yeah I
personally think singing rock was a really good thing for me you know even
though it wasn’t something I wanted to do I felt like I learned a lot I felt
like it made me really versatile and I think it also taught me at a young age
that sometimes you’re gonna have to do some things you don’t necessarily want
to do but if you stick with it and take the positive from it you’ll grow from it
so that was a lot of fun I really loved I loved my group and I loved the players
and the group so it was fun yeah I did get to do some pretty amazing
things in the Air Force I got we had a guest artists series
every single year where they would bring in about four or five guest artists and
some of them were pop acts and kind of jazz act so I got to sing
backups for Chaka Khan that was pretty amazing she was one of my idols or is
one of my idols and I got to sing backups for a whole bunch of other kind
of country artists as well too who came in we did deploy to the Middle East
twice so that was pretty incredible and some of the places we were at I think we
were in United Arab Emirates and Oman and I think Pakistan I think when we
were in Pakistan we were about 30 miles from the Kuwaiti border so that was
pretty incredible seeing that part of the world you know and then performing
in it that with what was strange is my group at the time was sort of a show
group rock group and so we didn’t wear uniforms to perform in we wore outfits
and sequins and stuff so we would get off these planes in our desert btus and
then we’d have to go change and I put on like a sequin top and then go and
perform so that was kind of odd I’m cool I know it’s like I don’t know what’s
happening here but okay we’ll go with it so yeah so that that was amazing I mean
performing for the troops was I think probably the highlight of my time there
I love that and just because what they were going through over there with their
families were going through at home you know without them that I just thought it
was really cool to be able to bring something of home to them overseas and
they were very appreciative I mean it was just to have a little bit of
normalcy I think was really appreciative even in sequence great so got to do what
you got to do oh great show biz yeah that’s right
I can’t omit sequins in it in a place where most of the women are wearing head
scarfs and that sort of thing right oh yeah oh yeah okay I would imagine you
might get I don’t know dirty looks from well look we were just on the base so we
outside of the base is very much I don’t think we were allowed to so um which was
fine by me keep me keep me safe so yeah I just watch that was that Jack Ryan on
Netflix oh yeah yes I don’t know if I should have seen
that it I feel like it was like I don’t know how much of its real and fake but
just sing middle east didn’t the conflict up close is an entertaining
show it was you know I mean it was pretty amazing going over there and just
seeing the the people the landscape the he needs I remember we got off some
plane I can’t remember where we were but it was something like 127 degrees I know
it was we had flown from Kyrgyzstan which was I think in the foothills of
the Himalayan mountains it was pretty cold you know everyone thinks everything
over there was hot but there definitely some pockets depending on where they are
that’s not it was pretty cold and we’ve been sitting on this airplane for a
while trying to get clearance to go do go wherever we were going then we landed
in the next part of the world and it was like 127 degrees and they opened up the
back of the plane and it was just like
so but um yeah it was really cool it was interesting hundred twenty-seven yeah
that’s horrible I know yes and we complain about dry heating human heat
over here you know I’ve been out performing I play for the city of
Virginia Beach on to live on Atlantic and I was out there Wednesday night and
Thursday night and Wednesday night was it was like I don’t know if it was 90
degrees but just really humid and my fingers were sticking to the guitar the
whole time and I had to just like stop sliding into notes cuz like my fingers
would stick and it’s just hard it’s hard to play when it’s the weather can be
very difficult I hate outdoor gigs I hate them I’ll
just a minute I’ll take him I’ll take any gig that comes my way I hate that
Shawn hates them he hates them because he gets all either suntan lotion or bug
spray Oliver’s guitar so then he’s going to come home and clean it all off I hate
it just for the sheer fact that you’re sweating it’s hot you know it’s just
it’s so much more fun for the people that are enjoying it then then I feel
for us I just I’d live rather be inside an a/c anytime
climate control yeah it’s so true outdoor gigs are tough I mean during you
it’s when it gets cold your fingers get stiff and that’s really hard to move and
then in the heat you’re just like oh man that’s they need to make like on the
guitar headstock they need to make like a little fan that blows down at your
hand and you could you could you can make that yeah patent that well and I
also don’t like outdoor gigs either because there’s always impending rain
and I don’t know why the conversation of were plugged into electricity we’re
holding electricity is always such an argument of you know I know but you can
see it’s raining and I’m plugged into I’m holding something electricity I’d
rather not be electrocuted on your case yeah but that’s always a conversation
you have to have you know it’s terrible when Italy least for us we don’t
actually have covers on our stages and so the rain comes and they’re like they
tell you to throw a tarp over your stuff and he’s just that’s what you do I take
my speaker step tower down and cover it with the tarp and hope that it’s not
it’s just a little passing Wow and just wait out the rain and then if it looks
terrible they’ll tell you to just pack it up but I’ve been caught a couple
times where I had to just cover it and either underneath the tarp try to pack
everything up here it’s it’s horrible that’s why don’t I don’t bring my good
guitar out there yeah that’s smart yeah the noise of outdoor playing yeah yeah
and deaf I definitely don’t wear sunscreen while I do it cuz that would
be awful trying to play with with it yeah yeah exactly and the the cold is
difficult for singing and that really really it constricts your vocal cords
yeah I just don’t and any type of dream whether it’s not not my favourites of
performing yeah well so now that you’re working in higher education what you’re
the director of Jazz Studies is that’s your official title I
so what is your do you spend more time managing professors and
behind-the-scenes things or do you spend more time reaching out to potential
students and doing recruitment kind of thing what what are your day-to-day
duties right um kind of both I would say that I do sworn the majority of my time
working with the Jazz faculty scheduling scheduling you know all of our concerts
and lessons for the faculty a lot of marketing markt trying to market all
those events I do have some interns now student interns that help me with
all of this because we run we can run anywhere from ten to fifteen concerts a
semester which is pretty amazing because the semester only runs fifteen to
sixteen weeks so and it’s not one concert a week it’s usually we go about
a month and a half or two months and then everything hits at once in the
month of November or the month of April so I do as for prospective students yes
I kind of am in charge of answering any type of questions for any student that’s
interested in jazz are pursuing one of our jazz degrees and I attend all the
audition days as well too to try to hear these students I deal with all the
scholarships for our students trying to get them money if we can and then I
teach I still teach my studio my studio last semester had about 15 singers in it
and then I run the ensemble I don’t teach a jazz history class anymore one
of our doctoral students is teaching that so that was kind of nice although
he’ll be done soon so I’ll probably take that back on
so yeah I’m still teaching but I do quite a bit of administrative work more
than I’d like to do honestly but that’s a job do you see any trends in the
incoming pool of students that are auditioning do you see more interest in
jazz or like over the past five years or so or less or do you see higher quality
candidate coming in or lower quality that’s a
really good question it’s funny it’s recruiting is witchcraft it really is I
don’t think there’s one there is certainly not one way to do it if we do
this we will attract a ton of students it is every single year it changes every
single year it’s kind of like reinventing the wheel which is sort of
in some ways it’s not good but in other ways I feel like it is kind of good
because you’re constantly like you said the students are always different every
single year you know and every single year it’s it’s just interesting to see
these differences so last year we had probably one of our biggest influx of
students coming in to the degrees which is wonderful
but they were of wildly different backgrounds and interests just really
really different and so some of them may continue on with the degrees some one
may actually some of them may be adjusting part of this just because they
have such different interests so that was really interesting this year for our
additions everyone was interested in jazz every single person that came in
was like hardcore this is what we want to do and this was our we had our
highest level of players coming in this year which is interesting it wasn’t our
biggest it wasn’t our largest amount of students but the level of playing was
very different from you know what we have sometimes seen so every single year
is is different you know it’s just it’s just interesting yeah and it’s also
interesting to see the differences in the studios the studios every single
year you know like one studio I think last year Sean might have had like four
or five people that joined the studio last year this year I think he had like
one or two you know and then of course we had a very large class that graduated
last year I think we graduated about eight people which you know for our
program that’s a lot of people you know our program is not even though the
School of Music is big the actual jazz program has you know anywhere between 30
and 40 people in it so when you graduate eight now we were talking a third of
your program or a fourth of the programs so it’s you know when I first started
the job I would get really worked up about numbers and players and just
making sure that we had enough people in the program so that everyone could play
in groups so that they were enjoying what they were doing and now I’ve just
kind of let it go and let whatever happens happens
because it just kind of does you know and I don’t I feel like that’s kind of a
dumb answer to your question but it’s hard to pin down what works what doesn’t
work what happens one year doesn’t happen the next year I mean it’s just
witchcraft it’s nuts I think you you perfectly answered my question in that
it does fluctuate so much and yeah I sometimes I wonder if if there are these
bands like snarky puppy and some of these these jazz groups that are getting
in like right using more mainstream sounds with jazz and I’m wondering if
that’s reaching younger students ears I know that I have my students listen to
snarky puppy yes I want to I want to hook them into more complex music and I
try to use music that has some you know that sounds kind of like relatable to
what they’ve already been listening to you
absolutely and yeah I didn’t know if you know the broader societal changes in the
music industry have affected write the youth
yeah I’m sure like with I’m just kind of thinking off the top of my head with
things like oddly enough with all the television shows and their competitions
and kind of bringing more singers to the forefront I wonder if that affects I my
question would be to you do you see what are the backgrounds of the people who
are coming into the pub into the program and how how have they kind of prepared
themselves for that step I’m kind of interested in in terms of where these
people were coming from and and how much experience they have for especially any
of our listeners who are thinking about school that’s such a great question
there are all over the map yeah you know they we have people who’ve been studying
jazz for years they’ve played all through high school
they’ve taken private lessons you know they come into the program really well
well-versed they’ve had a lot of it we have to remember also is that especially
for the students coming into the program so much of it depends on what they’ve
done in high school what groups they had in high school to play with so many of
the high schools now don’t have jazz bands as credited ensembles their clubs
their after-school clubs are there before school clubs a lot of the schools
because of the the funding or the cutting that’s happening in the arts
funding they won’t run jazz bands in the fall because marching band season so
then they run it in the spring so so many of these students coming in it
really depends on the background what school they were they went to and what
the school that school afforded them opportunity-wise a lot of it depended on
also just their lifestyle at home as well too you know maybe the parents
really push the students into we want you to take music and we’re gonna pay
for lessons and you know all of that and then you may have some other families
that couldn’t afford that so private lessons was not an option you know it’s
like whatever music they were going to have was through the school so we see we
just see it’s it’s all over the map you know in fact we just had a young player
that came in last year and had never taken a private lesson before ever in
her life ever and she had a fantastic year she had a wonderful year her growth
was off the charts you know and so that’s why and I think part of it is my
background coming in because I had never had a private lesson before I started
music school I mean I my choir experience was not didn’t have anything
to do with sight reading or oral skills or anything like that it’s just not what
that was not my experience so it’s if people are interested in music my thing
is if they’re interested in music if they’re willing to work if they are
inspired and have the passion I want to give them a shot you know I feel like
that’s our job that’s what I want to do sometimes it may work out sometimes it
may not work out it just really kind of depends but the experience levels are
kind of all over the place the one thing that I would say that obviously
scholarships the more experience people have the better the players say they are
then there’s merit scholarships so that kind of enters into it but I mean it’s
it’s pretty incredible to see the differing levels in the program and I
would say that that probably goes for a lot of schools especially small school a
smaller school like us like if you get to some of the big schools that the
music schools have been around for a hundred years
you know you’re gonna have certain levels but even in those schools you’re
gonna have you know varying levels so I don’t know did that answer the question
oh absolutely yeah very much so I mean it makes sense I mean you’re getting
people from all over the place and it could even be out of the country where
they may not have access to a private lesson and and that’s their first
experience could you tell me in your own words I’m kind of thinking about this
because you were talking about how you were also in Iraq or pop ensemble as
well and going into jazz as a vocalist I’m sure that there are a lot of people
out there that kind of go jazz vocals isn’t that just like skeet whiskey lead
bap bap bap bap so could you kind of talk a little bit about vocals within
jazz right yeah I think most people do kind of gravitate to scatting for that
is obviously something that jazz instrumentalists and vocalists do for me
and not that’s an interesting question to a lot of the students or many of
those students that we have coming in don’t really know what jazz is they
think I know what it is but they don’t know that the snarky puppy guys all went
to one of the more famous jazz schools or music schools in the country like
they they went through the band programs they went
the school they played at this school and then they start their own group
that’s definitely kind of a hybrid in the crossover group so the the so many
students they think they know what it is they’re not really sure what it is they
don’t they say they don’t like it at all you know I don’t like that I don’t
listen to this this music and then I’ll just start naming a few tunes a few
songs that are really really popular songs they don’t know that it’s jazz
right because it’s been so ingrained as part of kind of American culture you
know and half the restaurants that we go to and half the places we go to they’re
usually playing jazz in the background we’re just so used to hearing it we
don’t really think about it that much so for jazz vocals well I always think of
the big the big singers I mean there’s hundreds there’s thousands of them but
Ella Fitzgerald Billie Holiday Sarah Vaughan Peggy Lee to me jazz voice is at
the beginning of the at the beginning kind of the beginning of jazz it was
really coming from more of the crooning and kind of almost more classical bel
canto sound moving into crooning moving into jazz they were the storytellers so
they are the ones that sang lyrics and and most of the singers when they they
started out they were really there to tell this story and sing this story and
and some of them started like there’s the famous story about how Louie
Armstrong started scatting by I think Joe I’ve told this in the our history
class before to where he was in a recording session and he was supposed to
play something on trumpet and he drops the music and the producer the recording
engineer is like just keep going keep going
tapes rolling you know back then and they couldn’t do anything so then he
just starts scatting well whether or not that story is true I don’t know it seems
a little strange to me because I feel like Louie Armstrong probably didn’t
need music at all to play so I don’t know why dropping his music would have
affected them but that’s the story of hey DJ beads so I I think it’s I mean I
don’t know that’s a really that’s a good question to ask I think it’s people just
need to do a little bit of research and they will find so much and we’ll Frank
Sinatra yeah you know Tony I mean there we could just list so many
people I do like you know the Tony Bennett and duets album with like Lady
Gaga Joe you were talking a little bit earlier on about kind of hooking
students I do think that albums like that or concerts do kind of tend to hook
people that don’t think they like jobs or don’t know much about it and that all
of a sudden you start kind of going back and researching more and kind of getting
more into the I guess the pure form of it but the baby steps are amazing I’ll
have to listen to that Tony Bennett album yeah it’s you know it’s good it is
what it is you know I mean I I like it it’s you know there are lots of other
duets albums nothing that I like better but it’s you know it’s um whatever to me
whatever keeps this music alive is great and and whatever Avenue people have of
getting into the music is really important not everyone like and I think
one of the reasons why I believe in that very strongly is my background was so
different from Shawn’s background Sean grew up in and all musical family every
single person in his family played an instrument and and did this for their
living as well too so I mean he was by the time he was 15 or 16 he was playing
ice capade shows with his dad so you have that entryway into the music and
then you have my entryway into the music very very different so you know it’s
kind of however people get to it as long as they get to it that’s my big break
yes it has to be a goal of yours and you have to have the passion right and you
like scatting some people don’t like scatting you know I mean I work a lot of
gigs with guys that you know say don’t scat
we don’t this restaurant doesn’t want that there which is fine with me I’m
fine with not I’m kind of one of those vocalists that if I’m with a really
great player I would much rather listen to them then you know then scape myself
so so that’s that’s one facet of it for sure because I perform a lot at
retirement homes and places that uh you know at first I was just doing
instrumental versions of tunes like all of me or fly me to the moon
they always want you to sing well I started I started singing a lot more
these tunes and what I’ve found is that while the singing the physical singing
aspect is very similar in a lot of ways I know you talk about it’s a lighter
sound with less vibrato but aside from that I’ve found that it’s the notes that
you’re singing you’re singing a lot of you know thirds and seventh of sevenths
of chords and notes that don’t necessarily sit in that triad like they
do in normal pop right in rock music and that’s the biggest thing for me it’s
just you’re singing more difficult notes the sing yeah definitely I mean those
composers were brilliant I think I think that’s why another reason why I haven’t
written a lot of my own original music because it seems like every other day
I’m running across a song that I want to learn you know and the the jazz
composers really to me and the interesting thing is they weren’t jazz
composers at the time they were the popular music composers and especially
in the 20s and the 30s and the 40s they were actually writing Broadway shows
that’s what they were writing so it’s it’s interesting to kind of think that
we call them jazz songs now but at that time that was a song from a popular
Broadway show and then we kind of took it and did what we were gonna do with it
but yeah they some of the melodies are incredibly challenging incredibly hard
some of them are incredibly easy which I also think makes that very difficult for
you for us as singers like I tell some of my students sometimes the easier
compositions the easier melodies are actually harder because you have to do
something with it yourself as an artist then sometimes if something is much more
complicated just getting through that complicated aspect it’s like okay that’s
that’s it but when something is really easy that exposes your creativity as an
artist how do you sell something like like all of me all of me it’s not that
difficult of a tune so then what do you do with it it’s it’s certainly not as
challenging vocally as like a prelude to a kiss or even body and soul or
something that’s changing keys Ratana sizing different
you know key areas so yeah I love it I love the music and I love with teaching
my students also is having them point out why certain parts of the melody
works the way that it does over the courts you know like I tend to end a lot
of songs on either major sevens or flat nines I don’t know I just gravitate to
those two dependent depending on the tune and of course depending on the
harmony but it’s important for people to know why this works over this harmony or
why it doesn’t work or why it’s so important and so unique and it’s always
fascinating for me to to think about did these people know what they were writing
or were they just so good and that was in the their ears that it just kind of
came out this way and now of course throughout the years we’ve been
analyzing it you know waxing philosophical about what were they
thinking what were they doing maybe they just thought this sounds good to me so
we’re gonna put it out there but yeah and I would agree with you in your
lessons how much time do you actually spend breaking down you know exactly
what you’re talking about the chord theory and the song structure
as opposed to the physical singing aspects right we get into like in
lessons with my lessons we were saying like okay let’s play the bebop scale off
the root the third the fifth to seventh arpeggios are you know hitting the flat
nine into the root like there were concepts that were very theoretically
based that then we would try to put in do you actually have them figure that
out with the piano and then sing that and then try to sing it without the
piano no I don’t probably what we do the most see realize is I make them write
out all their own shards on finale so they all they have to they can’t just
open up a real book and sing it in a key number one they I don’t want them to do
that anyway because the keys probably not gonna work for them so we need to
find a more comfortable key for them and the reason why I haven’t put it in
finale is because to me that is how they actually learn the chart that’s how they
learn the piece of music is they write it out they can see the form it can
create an intro they can create an ending
I think it’s just the act of writing it out
and and then changing keys makes them a lot more intimate and understand the
four more and then understand the tune as well you know so some of our tunes
are obviously 32 bars that’s pretty easy but then maybe somebody does a tune
that’s 34 bars that the last a section is actually 10 bars versus 8 bars now
they have to really start thinking about that and I know that we discussed this
in our lessons as I’m really not trying to foster singers who are waiting for an
accompanies to not the men okay now you can come in you know I want them to know
exactly what they’re doing I want them to know you know how many bars something
is I want them to be able to hear what they’re doing and I feel like the charts
is the most important thing within those charts though another thing that’s
really always fascinating to me is that singers work so much off of recordings
and so many times on these recordings it’s not that they’re wrong it’s just
that the artists have chosen to move away from the melody so people will come
in and they will be singing a song because they learn they learned it off a
recording which is exactly what we want them to do we want them to listen but
they’re not singing the correct Mele so then when they go back and learn the
melody they realize oh well that’s even cooler what that artist has done because
that artist has you know this is their version of this song so now they have
two versions of the song you know and a lot of times sometimes I would say
probably more times than not when people are changing the melodies sometimes are
making them easier than the actual melody when you have to go back and
really look at that then you realize oh I was missing I didn’t get that or
that’s really important that I should have known about so I think it helps the
singers to try to be more like band leaders you know that not just it’s it’s
important for us the lyrics and the story is the most important thing but if
we don’t really know what’s happening underneath we’re missing half of it
we’re missing 50% of it I find that happens a lot with the law
my students is this this practice of listening is just everybody is so eager
to get to the final result or just to dig in that they miss half the process
of yeah the recording is extremely important and you need to analyze the
recording and actually figure out but what I’ll find a lot of my students are
doing is they’re actually either singing or playing overtop of the recording and
I’m I have every single one of my students I go to this process of don’t
sing don’t play just listen because there’s
so much information that you’re missing by trying to do what you’re doing
overtop of what they’re doing you need to go through that process of analyzing
exactly what they’re doing within this one bar because it’s so important that’s
and like you said often on the other side of it they come out learning
something they we all kind of have a tendency to take a shortcut here and
there to make things a little bit easier right but when you when you actually
open your ears and listen to exactly what’s going on you’re oh you’re now
open to maybe a new technique or something that you never really thought
was there and then once you would start to incorporate that it’s it gives you
that really good feeling yeah no absolutely well there’s such a big
difference to that I find between passive listening and active listening
we passively listen all day long because we’re the we’re society does completely
and totally overstimulated all day myself included if I’m at home I have
the TV on I don’t know why I just like background I’m not watching it I’m not
listening to it it’s just but it’s there I need something in the background I
feel like for a lot of our students now especially with these phones and earbuds
and everything they’re listening to stuff all day long they’re not really
actively listening to it they’re not focusing on it they’re not sitting down
closing their eyes really listening to it and really figuring out what is
happening here you know and we do that in the studio to where I’m gonna
incorporate quite a bit more of this this year because I’ve been a little
lacks on it and they have not been doing as much as I want but listen to attune
and right what’s happening what is the
instrumentation what how many courses did they take who played a solo how what
how did they change the melody the second time like really analyze what’s
happening rather than just oh it was fun you know that was that sounded good to
me there’s a very big difference in that you know yes very much so yeah yeah well
awesome I love all this but I would love to also hear about your your albums in
your studio experience you’ve released two albums right I have 2009 and 2016 I
know I can’t believe my first album is already 10 years old so yeah so what
between recording your first album in your second album what changed about
your approach in you know the actual studio experience I know Sean arranged
the tunes for your second album or I think he did great yeah he actually
arranged for both okay once he arranged for do you think that the second album
was a large improvement over the first I don’t I don’t think I’d say it’s an
improvement it’s just different with the first album we took what was funny the
first album I really wrestled with even doing it I think I was yeah it was like
34 at the time and I just thought I’m not ready I’m not ready I’m not ready
I’m not ready like we all kind of feel like it’s we’re just never ready for it
right and it was actually my teacher Lisa Ann who what as I’m going round and
round about doing this you know it’s a snapshot in time it’s a snapshot and
where you are right now and when we think about our favorite players too I
love listening to my singers voices age and the different process throughout the
decades I love that so much so I don’t know why I thought mine needed to be
perfect you know at the gate but the first album
was primarily standards all standards but pretty popular standards I had quite
a few Harold Arlen songs on that CD because for my Master’s my thesis was on
Harold Arlen so that was kind of who I was studying so
it was sort of started out of some Harold Arlen songs and then it morphed
into an album Shawn did all the arrangements
and it was wonderful it was a really great experience and I felt I felt
really good about it of course there were issues there’s always issues and
recording and you know this is that when we record everything is live so the
whole group gets in there and they all play sometimes I sing with them during
the time or in fact the majority of the time I sing with the band and then I
will just go back and punch certain things I don’t let them play and then go
in and sing overtop of it because there’s a certain energy that happens
and it’s amazing you can hear it from track to track how the energy changes a
little bit and and it’s because we’re all kind of feeding off of each other
musically so I want to be a part of that the one thing I also found too is that
basically after the third take you’re done it’s not gonna get any better after
the third take at least for me for my experiences because by that time I’m
overthinking it too much you know it’s it’s not quite as organic as the first
couple times because everyone’s just kind of diving in
you know honestly the majority of takes that we’ve done it’s usually the first
or the second many times it’s the first one that because people are just kind of
diving into it you know we haven’t had a rehearsal usually for the first album I
don’t remember us having a rehearsal but Shawn would send the arrangements to
people and said this is kind of the vibe that we’re going for here so a lot of
times in the studio it’s the first time that we’re hearing it you know so
there’s that energy that’s so incredible that you don’t really want to not be a
part of the second album was we picked more obscure tunes and I kind of had a
little bit of a theme with the second album of not really Moon and Sun and
stars but it was the second album’s entitled where the blue begins which is
actually a lyric from the song stairway to the stars
and so all that the songs on it do have that kind of elements destination moon
no moon at all stairway to the stars darn that dream so the tune I didn’t
really want to have a cheesy every single turn it has a moon in it you know
but I wanted an underlying thread kind of going through everything with the
second CD the arrangements were much more involved Sean really he arranged a
lot for the second CD which I loved we were checking out some of my favorite
albums some of my favorite CDs right now is the vocalist named Denise Donatelli
she’s out on the west coast and Jeffrey Kizer
is her arranger and he just wrote some really incredible pieces for her
arrangements for her and so Sean was kind of emulating a little bit of that
for me too I wanted to sing so Lee’s more I wanted to really be challenged
and kind of stretched myself on this CD so he did that and we love it it’s a
wonderful CD the one thing with this CD that we realized after the fact is it’s
very hard to play on gigs with people without a rehearsal it’s very hard
because the arrangements are so challenging that we really need we
really need time to at least kind of work on them or to have the other
players that we don’t know the players and another time work on them so we’ve
already discussed for the next CD having a little bit of both putting that a
little bit of both because what I’m finding is that I can still sing a lot
of the songs for the first CD but the second CD unless it’s the conditions are
right I can’t perform as many of them as I would like to so that’s that’s kind of
it but you know this these are all part of the process which I love the
recording process well I love it and I hate it I love it because the excitement
and then learning new repertoire and just kind of getting that going is it’s
great the part that I don’t like is that boy it is really hard to listen to
yourself you know it’s one of these things where I’m like why did I do that
why did I do that so many times on this phone and I don’t want to go back and
fix it because then the energy is different you know even the Tambor for a
vocalist if I go back and punch one line it’s going to sound different than the
rest of the track yep and I just don’t want to lose that
organic naturalness and plus I like mistakes I don’t like things to be a
hundred percent perfect because number one we’re not you know number two
that just means says me you fixed it and I don’t think we should be fixing as
much as we do these days you know fixing a little bit is okay we all do it myself
included but if you don’t have to do it I don’t think it should be done come on
you want gotta tune in jazz don’t even get me started on that you know we were
living in Nashville that was one of the first times to that we had ever heard of
live auto-tune hmm you know we were getting to know these people they were
like yeah oh yeah we’ve got live auto-tune on so and so’s Mike and lion
I’m like what I don’t I just that’s not that’s just not my thing
but it’s fine for other people Wow I really really enjoyed when you had some
vocal lines that Sean played guitar like they were synchronized jazz they were
they’re really well done oh thank you well and that’s what he did a lot on
this album and I loved it because that is so challenging for me to
learn these intricate lines because what he sometimes forgets as a guitar player
is that he doesn’t have to worry about breathing well he will like just write
these you know sixteenth note lines that after a while I’m like I have to take
the flat I have to or bite my tongue does not move that fast like I had two
syllables stood and I have to kind of figure it out but the cool thing about
it is that I do this every single time with him he writes me something amazing
I don’t like it oh no I don’t like this and I don’t like it and then I get into
it and I start working more and more and it gets easier and it gets better and
then I realized I love it I just needed to I needed to do it you know and
sometimes you know sometimes she will write things that it’s like this is this
is too many notes I physically can’t do this so we need to adjust it a little
bit but for the most part I’m usually always able to yeah well it’s nice when
your repertoire pushes you to grow oh I love like trying to write something
that’s gonna be more difficult for you to play and you actually have to like
build up to it what and rather than practicing
technical exercises he just drew a song you you practiced and got better right
well there’s such a big difference – between singing and honestly playing
guitars I know that sounds like such a dumb statement but when you’re trying to
sing a guitar line that’s very challenging just because number one
orally it’s just different from a lot of melodies you know like a lot of melodies
now even jazz melodies you kind of know where they’re gonna go sort of and if
you don’t that makes it really interesting but with instrumental lines
that’s just a totally different ballgame so it’s it’s such a great challenge I
love it and another challenge too is that so for the album I had to come up
with all the scat syllables to make sure and that’s a work in progress you know
sometimes it works sometimes with his album that’s just coming out there were
a couple lines I’m like I wish I hadn’t sang it there I wish I’d sang of this
there you know because it fit or not and then you’re trying to match the timbre
of the instrument which is what I love as well too is instead of sounding like
you as a singer singing a lyric now you’re trying to blend with a guitar and
tenor saxophone and fit within that and become a texture that complements it and
makes it better rather than having it stick out and I I love that I almost
love that more than singing lyrics sometimes because it’s just it’s a total
different use of your brain that’s very cool I feel like in your your jazz
ensemble you do you try to do that with all the backing vocalists create warm
connections yes yeah I definitely do it and yeah and in fact I’ve tried to
incorporate yeah the ensemble for sure definitely has
that where there they are a lot of times singing horn parts they are kind of horn
lines or singing horn lines or singing more background lines and how you know
they approach it that’s always an interesting of how how do you approach
the main melody versus a background duo or something it’s
very very different and it’s just the Tambor’s got to change the volumes got a
change so then the control changes so there’s that and then I’ve also try to
work with the solo singers in the studio as well too as learning instrumental
solos and putting their own scat syllables over those solos as well too
and that’s we’re gonna be getting of doing a lot of that this year because
that’s gonna challenge them orally to number one learn the solo and now number
two you’ve got to come up with what’s comfortable syllable wise in your mouth
for you to do this so and by the way you have to try to work it at every single
tempo slow tempo and then faster templates too just to make sure that do
I really have this the muscle memory in my mouth.
And that brings us to the end
of part one with Dardan Purcell. Join us next Thursday as we get into part two
and Darden shares with us some techniques and some tips for our vocals.
Be sure to check out Darden’s album, ‘Where the Blue Begins’. As well, Darden’s
husband, Shawn Purcell, just released an album called ‘Symmetricity’. Be sure to
check out both of those albums. They’re really really good. I can’t recommend
them highly enough. As always, take 5 seconds if you like the show, pop on over
to iTunes and give us a review. And lastly, I definitely want to thank you
for listening. Our numbers have increased. That all is attributed to you guys. Thank
you for sharing, thank you for getting the word out about Fret Buzz The Podcast.
We have some pretty amazing guests on the way to say the least.
And yeah, I just want to thank you personally. It’s it’s a pleasure to be
able to bring all this great information to you and I’m glad that you are enjoying.
So yeah, keep on sharing, keep on letting everybody know and yeah, if you like, send
me an email. aaron@fretbuzzthepodcast.com Okay everybody,
I hope you have a good day. Keep playing. Keep rocking and we’ll see you next
Thursday for part two with Darden Purcell on Fret Buzz The Podcast.

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